My column in today’s DNA
It has been a decade since al-Qaeda took the war in the Middle East to the doorsteps of the Americans. 9/11 became a watershed moment for the ‘War on Terror’, with the US and its allies recognising what countries like India had been facing for more than a decade before that: small groups of interlinked, highly motivated terrorists brining war to civilian populations, in civilian areas.
The US responded by bombing Afghanistan. A year or so later it went to war with Iraq, ostensibly because it had weapons of mass destruction, but somewhere that war, too was enmeshed with the war on terror.
In the next 10 years, the US and its allies have waged a bloody and brutal war against terror, striking at suspected terrorist cells across the world, incarcerating people without trial at Guantanamo Bay, making incursions into sovereign territories in order to attack and destroy terrorists. To achieve this, intelligence networks have been put in place, information systems are up and running, a large number of military personnel, arms and armament, and equipment have been deployed. Targets are continuously attacked. And, of course, Osama Bin Laden has been killed. But, despite all this, the war on terror is not over. Terrorists still attack.
It is estimated that the US alone has spent over $4 trillion since 2002. Over and above this, there has been a tremendous human cost — approximately 2.5 lakh people have died and over 7 million refugees are living in camps across the world.
Has all this reduced the intensity of terrorist attacks? Maybe it has kept the US and its allies safe, but the rest of the world does not have the luxury of invading sovereign nations suspected of harbouring terrorists. The rest of the world has to fight terror the old fashioned way. Step by step. Keeping in mind the laws of their land; keeping in mind international laws; respecting international conventions on sovereignty, and adhering to international codes on human rights. These countries simply cannot send crack assassination teams to nations that harbour terrorists. In many ways the anti-terror machinery in other countries apart from the US and its allies, fights with one hand tied behind its back. While these countries are able to stop most terror attacks, they have been rather unsuccessful in stopping the funding of terror.
One of the most lucrative sources of funding terror has been the production, processing, distribution and retailing of narcotics the world over. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime, despite their rejection of modernity, terrorists have adopted sophisticated, modern techniques of using crime to fund the war. This includes drugs & arms trafficking, laundering the monies earned from this, and deep involvement in cross border organised crime.
An earlier 2007 report from the UNODC had pegged the total value of the previous year’s opium harvest in Afghanistan alone, earned by farmers, laboratory owners and Afghan traffickers at about $3.1 billion. Afghanistan is not the only opium producer in the world. Pakistan is another major opium growing country. The same theory applies to India. Large portions of Naxal controlled areas grow opium and others are used to traffic drugs in relative safety. Kashmir is another area where Opium is grown and trafficked.
The war on terror will not succeed until there is political will to cut off the money supply that fund terror. And a large part of not only the money supply but also the ground level organisation that plants terror is the narcotics trade. The last 20 years of the war on drugs have yielded nothing except to put huge profits — in cash — into the hands of those who seek to disrupt nation states. It seems ridiculous that while spending billions on fighting terror, governments across the world do not cut off the source of funds. The war on drugs is not a war that can be won by patrolling every inch of the globe and burning down every opium farm. There simply isn’t the manpower to achieve it, and growing it is far too easy, and the profits far too high not to be tempted. It can only be won by legalising drugs, monitoring it, taxing it and tracking it. Governments and various agencies across the world need to shed their dogma about prohibition of drugs. To fight and win the war on terror, the source of funds needs to be cut off. And that starts with legalising drugs.